Léonie Sonning Awards 1979

Janet Baker

The mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 8pm on Tuesday, 24 April in Odd Fellow Palæet. 

The music prize was presented by Børge Friis, D.Phil.

The programme

Antonio Caldara Selve amiche
Martini il Tedesco Plaisir d’amour
G. Battista Pergolesi Ogni pena
Alessandro Scarlatti Spesso vibra per suo gioco
Guilio Caccini Amarilli, mia bella
Francesco Durante Danza, Danza, fanciulla gentile
F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Scheidend
Neue Liebe
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges
Ich hör ein Vöglein
Frederick Delius Young Venevil
The Bird's Story
Twilight Fancies
Love’s Philosophy
Gabriel Fauré Rencontre; Toujours – Adieu
Claude Debussy Mandoline – Air de Lia

Dame Janet Baker, song
Geoffrey Parsons, grand piano


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize is hereby awarded to Dame Janet Baker in admiration of her human, sensitive and personal interpretation of the best of the Lied genre. Dame Janet Baker’s indefatigable contribution in Denmark and the rest of the world has helped preserve, bring to life and renew the tradition of the Lied.

Janet Baker in Denmark

Before receiving the music prize, Janet Baker had only given two Lieder evenings in Denmark, and a Thursday Concert with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in April 1978, in which she sang Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody and Britten’s dramatic Phaedra.

Prior to the prize-giving concert, both Ninka and Else Cornelius interviewed the English singer – and, as Else Cornelius wrote: "What did a drop in the ocean such as the Léonie Sonning Music Prize mean to her?" "One never becomes blasé when one meets people’s expressions of gratitude and respect. No matter if it is one person standing at the entrance to the stage saying thank you, or it is a committee giving one a prize – both are evidence of love that one is grateful to receive. But when such evidence comes from another country, it nevertheless means something different,"Janet Baker replied.

In connection with receiving the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, Janet Baker was soloist at a concert on 25 April 1979 in Radiohusets Koncertsal: Gustav Mahler’s: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the Danish Radio Male Choir, conducted by János Ferencsik.

Janet Baker returned to Denmark on several occasions after receiving the music prize, also in 1988, when she sang Berlioz’s Summer Nights with Collegium Musicum.

Selected Music by Janet Baker

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"One cannot find singing more perfect than that of Janet Baker [...] With great virtuosity, she treated every single little phrase in early Italian arias, and in terms of timbre and expressiveness she was quite exceptional in Lieder by Mendelssohn, Delius, Fauré and Debussy, as if each country and each composer had been her particular speciality. Geoffrey Parsons was an eminently sensitive and co-creative partner at the piano."

(Thomas Viggo Pedersen, Kristeligt Dagblad, 28 April 1979)

"[…] The concert opened with a representative selection of Italian music [...] Six pieces of completely different stylistic observance had meaninglessly been lumped together, but it was anything but meaningless what Baker got out of them; small, intense mood pictures treated with virtuosity and characterised by superior technique at all levels. Janet Baker continued with six songs by Mendelssohn, and gave them an interpretation as if Schumann had written them. Mendelssohn’s almost song-like Lieder style was at times almost unable to bear the sweeping interpretations, but at the same time they were enriched with a great amount of meaning that could only be to their advantage. Baker’s exceptional phrasing and fine control of vibrato made them a triumph."

(Bo Holten, Weekendavisen, 27 April 1979)

"Alt for damerne [a Danish women’s magazine title = Everything for the ladies] was the headline in Information – motivated by the fact that her style of delivery is too sagaciously ladylike, too much characterised by respectability [...] Her voice is most beautiful where it can take its time, and where it can spend time taking care of itself, as in Caccini’s ‘Amarilli, mia bella’, in Mendelssohn’s ‘Nachtlied’, in Delius’ ‘Twilight Fancies’."

(Hansgeorg Lenz, Information)